The Time Ranger | When Sinatra Tried to Kill POTUS in Saugus

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Any of you saddlepals feeling a mite puny due to a wasted Friday night of margaritas, month-old salsa dysentery? Not to worry. We’ve an entire saddlebag full of Tataviam homeopathics to share this morning. 

Ahead waits a most interesting trek through Santa Clarita Valley history this morning, what with barbed wire thieves, UFOs, doggie hoof-&-mouth sufferers and a lost gold mine found at Saugus High School. 

You know the drill, amigos. Left foot goes into that little wooden thingie hanging down from your saddle some of us grizzled veterans call, “… a stirrup …” Butt goes in the seat (facing downward) and into The Mighty Signal time portal we go… 


OAKEY DOKEY — Pre-20th century, oaks used to number in the hundreds of thousands throughout the valley. A family of four Tataviam would eat about 500 pounds a year of acorns, dropped from these splendid trees. (Small sidebar: An oak will not produce acorns until it is at least 50 years old.)  

Alas, one of the byproducts, however, of an acorn diet was constipation. The native Indians used to also consume Rhamus Purshiana (a white flowered buckhorn shrub), which grows in abundance in the hills around Santa Clarita and is sold over the counter today in homeopathy outlets. It was a natural and powerful laxative. (Mind you, I’m not remotely suggesting this the next time you’re on a hike on the local paseos and feeling, ahem — “bottled up.”)  

The Tataviam also used Eriodyction Glutinosum. We know it by its Spanish name as the Yerba Santa plant, which they used as a treatment for respiratory disorders. 

Another early pharmaceutical was Grindelia Robusta, a gum-like plant used for both treating heart ailments and poison oak. 

Then we have Yerba de la Vibora, or, Caucalis microcarpax, aka California Hedge Parsley, which was used to treat rattlesnake bites. Hopefully, effectively. 

Golondrina, or Euphorbia Maculata, was what you reached for in the Tataviam medicine chest to treat warts, cataracts and skin diseases. Careful. It’s slightly poisonous. 

There’s something called Chucupate, a bitter root. Chew that and say  goodbye to headaches, neuralgia and everybody’s enemy: flatulence. 

Escholtzia, aka the California poppy, was crushed and used to treat colic in infants. Increase the dosage and it was also a hallucinogenic. 

An oil extracted from Chiloicote supposedly promoted hair growth. 

Sulphur was the aspirin of its day and used to treat a wide variety of maladies. 

Heated asphaltum was applied to rheumatoid joints. The Indians also used red ants to treat the malady. An old log would be pounded and the early Americans would gather up the scurrying insects. They would be placed on an arthritis sufferer’s stomach and encouraged to bite. If you lived through the treatment, then the medicine man scooped up the soil surrounding the ant hole, mixed it with water and gave it to you to drink. Reports were that the procedure was both painful and disgustingly distasteful, but effective. 

Red ants were also used to treat dysentery or diarrhea (which, until the early 20th century, was one of the top five causes of death in America), when swallowed alive. 

Likewise, lice were, ahem, “ranched” and cultivated into cold oral infusions as the Tataviams’ answer to a blood transfusion. 

Sauco, or elderberry leaves, were prescribed for colds and fevers. 

One of the more regular treatments the Tataviam espoused was the use of a temescal — a large oven-looking structure also known as a sweathouse. Both the healthy and the sick used it, sweating out whatever ailed them, jumping into a nearby cold creek and then going back to the sweathouse. 

There were about 30 known local herbs and plants the Tataviam used.  

(All y’all got all that? I’m not going to repeat …) Thanks to a Dr. Cephas R. Bard, we have at least a small record of their medicinal practice. Bard retired in 1894 as president of the Southern California Medical Society and dedicated years compiling native pharmacopoeia and treatments. 

“Stooped or bow-legged Indians were seldom seen,” wrote Bard.  

In quoting another expert on Indian life, Bard noted: “Catlin, the highest authority on the North American Indian, states that he never saw an idiotic, lunatic, deformed, rachitic, deaf or dumb Indian.”  

Best I know, Dr. Bard’s treatise is still in the Ventura County Library. 

APRIL 20, 1924 

ANIMALS! THOU SHALT NOT CROSS THIS LINE!! — The Hoof and Mouth Disease quarantine continued with checkpoints throughout the SCV. Because we were the major traffic artery linking Southern and Central California, patrols and checkpoints were extra heavy in this area. It also meant traffic and tourism were cut to just a few cars a day. 

DOGGIE SMUGGLING — An untimely sneeze cost J.N. Olsen 25 bucks in the Newhall Courthouse. Olsen had been stopped on the Ridge Route at a Hoof and Mouth inspection stop. No animals whatsoever were allowed to cross county lines without the proper papers. The Highway Patrol and county health inspectors were just about to let Olsen drive off when they heard a sneeze from underneath a pile of suitcases in the back seat. Olsen’s dog must have had allergies. 

WIRE RUSTLERS — One of the more unusual problems ranchers and stockmen had in the 1920s and ’30s here was barbed wire theft. With spreads lining the main state highway through here, motorists would sometimes cut several yards of barbed wire then use it for everything from tie-downs to towing rope for their cars. Problem with that? Livestock tended to not obey the honor system when there was no fence and wandered through to distant vistas.  

NAUGHTY OL’ OTTO WAY UP SPUNKY CANYON — I don’t know what Otto Fenske was doing up Spunky Canyon, but it must have been a doozy. He was arrested under the Lewd Act and released on $1,000 bail. Murderers sometimes got off cheaper. 

APRIL 20, 1934 

THERE’S A ‘HOLD ON FOR 8 SECONDS, TIM,’ JOKE SOMEWHERE HERE, BUT WE’RE GONNA POLITELY WALK AROUND IT — The 9th annual Newhall-Saugus Rodeo was getting ready to open their doors at the Hoot Gibson Arena (today, the Saugus Speedway). Nearly every American rodeo champion was signed up to compete. The narrow two-lane Soledad Canyon Road was extended to six lanes to accommodate the thousands of people who would attend. 

INSTANT DE-POPULATION — With the completion of the Bouquet Reservoir a week earlier, the valley suffered a decrease of population. Many of the workers had rented cabins or houses in the valley and moved out the same week. The Signal noted that our growth was robust and that we constructed “… several new houses each year” to keep up with the growing demand. Several houses. Each year. That’s a good one … 

MOTHER NATURE WAS NOT HELPING — Cooler temperatures and fog kept the sage from blossoming in the April 1934 honey harvest. It also kept the bees indoors. It was a cool, beautiful spring and one local likened it to one you’d find in Minnesota. 

GETTING RICH  IN PLACERITA CANYON — The Soledad Placer Corp., led by W.J. Clark, invented a new technique for gold recovery from gravel. They pulled out about $50,000 in less than a year from upper Bouquet Canyon. They were forced to shut down when agricultural interests (i.e., Newhall Land) protested that the mine was muddying up the Santa Clara River downstream. That $50,000 in gold? It’d be worth almost $2 million today … 

APRIL 20, 1944 

HE COULD HAVE USED A TABLESPOON OF RHAMUS PURSHIANA Noted actor Harry Carey owned a huge spread where Tesoro del Valle sits today. On this date, one of the top movie stars on the planet had to drop out of the Broadway play, “But Not Good-bye,” due to a severe case of indigestion. At first, doctors thought it was an appendicitis attack. This would begin Carey’s physical decline. And it didn’t help that shortly thereafter, he was bitten by a black widow spider. 

MORE UNASKED-FOR MINNESOTA WEATHER — Eighty years back, folks were wondering not only when, but if, spring would arrive. Cold, windy conditions, coupled with one solitary deluge of rain in early March, kept the range grasses down and the cattle shivering and skinny. 

RE: THE ABOVE — Range grass down? Cattle shivering and skinny? I’m guessing that wouldn’t muster much notice with many of you saddlepals today in the SCV Here & Now, would it? 

APRIL 20, 1954 

BIKINI WEATHER — Here we go again. Me lamenting about our oddball April weather. While folks were freezing in the April of ’34, it hit the century mark a half-century back in Downtown Newhall, hotter in some of the outlying canyons. 

I CAN DIG IT. CAN YOU DIG IT? — Newhall Water dug a new well on 14th Street. It turned out to be a whopper, producing 1,000 gallons a minute or 1.5 million gallons per day. That’ll water your petunias … 

THE TRADE-OFFS WE PAY FOR PROGRESS — When putting in a new water main on Arcadia Street, Newhall Water removed two enormous oaks, each centuries old. 

DEPUTY DEBO vs. THE UFOs — Frank DeBernardi’s usually quiet evening up at the L.A. County sheriff’s depot up in Gorman was interrupted by an unusual call. As if zapped by a uranium gun from outer space, Frank’s teletype started rattling late one Saturday night. Seems there were reports of a farmer holding a UFO pilot hostage in his almond orchard near Three Points where the craft reportedly crashed. Deputy D dutifully motored out there and traced the story to a pair of couples who had been sudsing it up pretty good at the little bar at lonely Three Corners. When they staggered out, they promised the barkeep he would soon be having some company. Smart money was they made the bogus UFO call. 

AN ACTUAL, IDENTIFIED FLYING OBJECT — An actual, real, life carbon-based lifeform pilot DID escape his crash. A married pilot team was following Mint Canyon highway. Their small craft was sputtering and looking for a place to land. After briefly sailing airborne, their auto crashed into the side of a barn. While Mr. and Mrs. Candler didn’t exactly walk away, they were lucky to be alive. 

WHEN SINATRA TRIED TO ASSASSINATE THE PRESIDENT — Libra Productions broke camp after a two-week shoot here. The company had been filming, “Suddenly,” the Frank Sinatra/Sterling Hayden movie about an attempted assassination of the president in a backwater town called “Suddenly.” Most of the flick was shot on location here. There were mixed feelings about the crew departing. Some were happy at having the extra money being spread around, along with a few locals getting extra work. Others noted they didn’t like being ordered around or delayed by the movie crew.  

AND IF THE HART INDIANS HAD A HOCKEY TEAM, THEY’D BE THE “THICK-CLADS” — I love some of the really old sports headlines in The Mighty Signal. Try this one: “Hart Cee Thinclads Cop First Place.” The “Thinclads” was a metaphor for the skimpily clad track team. 

FOOF. CITY PEOPLE. — We were plagued with them even back in 1954. On this date, Tony Lambert was coming home when he spotted two carloads of picnickers from L.A. sprawled out in his barley field. They had spread out blankets, made a big campfire, tromped around and even built a baseball field on his crop. When Tony asked them to leave, they were rather unfriendly and refused to go. 

RE: THE ABOVE? — And that’s why we have the Second Amendment. 

APRIL 20, 1964 

WHEN WE WERE ALMOST FRONTIERLAND — On this date, eight local businessmen went to Scottsdale, Arizona, to get some ideas about recreating Newhall’s business district in a Wild West/Frontier motif. The chamber folk were looking into recreating all of downtown Newhall into a theme town, complete with raised sidewalks and wooden storefronts. Locals were rather excited about the designs — right up until they got an estimate as to how much it would cost to de-eyesore Downtown Newhall. Then, they scampered off like scaled coyotes … 

TODAY, IT WOULDN’T EVEN BE A MISDEMEANOR — We sometimes paint the valley with a halcyon brush, as if all things were quiet and peaceful. It wasn’t so for a young Canyon Country man. He had stopped at the old Dairy Delight on Main Street with his girlfriend. It was near closing time when a gang of 15 youths came from out of an alley, dragged him from his car and severely beat him, using shovels, tire jacks and jack handles. The group, believed to be part of a San Fernando Valley car club, also attacked four other men that night. 

BOMB BOY WARREN — Few folks remember that our then-5th District Supervisor Warren Dorn was a Newhall boy. On this date, he was spotted leaning over a detonator in a fallow field off Highway 99. Moments later, a huge explosion went off in the distance. It was the ceremonial blast to commemorate the groundbreaking for what was then called the Valencia Valley Golf Course and would later just be called Valencia. Newhall Land & Farming set aside 200 acres for the championship course. Dorn’s explosion was for one of the four original manmade water traps for the Republican Wetlands, or, what I like to call, “… golf courses …” 

I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU. AND WHATZHERNAME… — Best line of possibly the decade came from Ed Murdock’s “Question Man.” His query in The Mighty Signal from 60 years ago: “Does your husband have a wandering eye.” Quoth Mrs. James Leake: “Yes. He looks at everything that wears skirts. I’d better add that he told me that when he married me, he gave me his heart, not his eyeballs.” 

APRIL 20, 1974 

ONE OF OUR GREATEST HIGHWAY TRAGEDIES —This can be filed with some of the most tragic of our traffic accidents. On this date, a Saugus mother driving a pickup with a camper shell was carrying seven children with her — two in front with her and five in the bed of the truck. When she slammed on the brakes at Bouquet Junction for a yellow light, a fully loaded gravel truck smashed into her. Three of the children were killed in the accident. The youngest was just 4.  

THE SUICIDE HIGHWAYS OF THE SCV — Because of the fatalities, the top-of-the-front-page Signal editorial that week drew gasps from the community for its giant, above-the-fold headline: “IF THE BIG RIGS WON’T SLOW DOWN THROW THE BASTARDS IN JAIL.” Publisher Scott Newhall attacked speeding and poorly maintained big rigs. Scotty likened them to a “Southern California Panzer Division of Murder Incorporated.” This newspaper received an equally divided response. There were several threats of violence, reportedly from Teamsters, against the staff and paper along with people agreeing with the editorial. 

YEAH. SURE YOU GUYS DIDN’T FIND ANY GOLD — If Placerita Junior High hadn’t taken it, perhaps Saugus High’s mascot should have been the Miners. While building the new campus, crews found an abandoned gold mine. The shaft had been plugged with boulders, sand and boards. One of the first questions a Hart district trustee asked was if any gold was left. Sorry. No miracle bailout for the district. 

APRIL 20, 1984 

WONDER WHAT PAUL DID WHEN HE TURNED 170? — Paul Nester published his book, “The First Half of My Life.” He was 85 when it hit the shelves. It included his years in Newhall in the 1920s when he was a deputy sheriff. Besides breaking up numerous brawls and shootouts, Nester recalled being dragged through downtown Newhall by a team of runaway horses. 

NAIL CLIPPING? SORRY. YOUR GERMAN SHEPHERD DIDN’T MAKE IT … — He was one of the more controversial folk of the 1980s. Dr. James Bullock, local vet, was hit with a five-year-probation by an administrative law judge. Bullock had been charged with several counts of negligence and deceptive practice. Complaints included a Newhall man who had brought his dog in for a routine checkup and it died. A horse owner brought his animal in to be put to sleep after a traffic accident. Instead, Dr. Bullock sold the animal for $140. There were other stories, including a dog dying under the vet’s care while the owners were out of town. His office froze the animal, thawed it and charged board on the corpse … 

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Thanks for the company, dear friends and neighbors. See you next week with a brand-new Time Ranger adventure, only here at your Mighty Signal. (259-1000 for subscriptions!) Until then, “¡Vayan con Dios, amigos!”  

If you do love local history and reading about ghosts, myths and monsters, visit Boston’s bookstore at 

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